Sony Pictures Entertainment warned media outlets on Sunday against using the mountains of corporate data revealed by hackers who raided the studio’s computer systems in an attack that became public last month.
In a sharply worded letter sent to news organisations, including The New York Times, David Boies, a prominent lawyer hired by Sony, characterized the documents as “stolen information” and demanded that they be avoided, and destroyed if they had already been downloaded or otherwise acquired.
The studio “does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading or making any use” of the information, Boies wrote in the three-page letter, which was distributed Sunday morning.Sony’s action comes 20 days after hackers first infiltrated its computer systems and amid silence on the crisis from peer studios that Sony had hoped would publicly voice support. It comes after a flood of damaging media reports based on the hacked documents, which included information on Sony’s salaries, business negotiations, employee health records and private email conversations. One of the most volatile email exchanges, which included racially insensitive banter about President Obama’s imagined preference for black-themed movies, prompted public apologies by Amy Pascal, co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures, and by a prominent producer, Scott Rudin.
Over the weekend, the hackers, who have pressed Sony to withdraw its upcoming comedy “The Interview,” promised further data dumps by Christmas, when the film is scheduled to be released. The plot involves an attempt to assassinate the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Until now, the data has provided a feast for traffic-hungry websites like Fusion and those owned by Gawker Media, along with some mainstream news organisations like Bloomberg, which last week posted an article — without citing names — revealing details of employee medical records that were made public by the hackers.
The Times has reported on some Sony emails and company-related data based on the accounts of other news organisations and on statements from Sony executives. Sony representatives have acknowledged the authenticity of the emails and data.Heather L. Dietrick, general counsel for Gawker Media, said the organisation was not yet aware of Boies’s letter. She said Gawker reports had been confined to “very newsworthy” and “revelatory” documents. A Bloomberg spokesman declined to comment.
Kurt Opsahl, deputy general counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, voiced doubt that the media could be forced to avoid such material, even if it was illegally obtained by a third party, given court precedent. “It is unfortunate that Sony got hacked, and lost control over its internal information,” Mr. Opsahl said in an email. “But the solution is not to muzzle the press.”
As Sony has been battered, other major studios and the Motion Picture Association of America until now have offered virtually no public backing. Asked about the stance of Christopher Dodd, the association’s chief executive, a spokeswoman said he was not immediately available.
But the association issued a statement that read in part: “From the highest levels of our organisation working with the highest levels of theirs, we are doing anything and everything that Sony believes could be helpful and will continue to do so.”
According to several people who were briefed on the matter, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment, Dodd and Sony’s chairman, Michael Lynton, have sought, without success, to organise a letter of support from fellow studio chiefs.
The letter did not materialize, according to one of those people, in part because rival studio chiefs felt it would be ineffective and might look like “a publicity stunt.”
Another person briefed on the discussions said Sony’s search for assistance was complicated by the studio’s Japanese ownership and a cultural reluctance by those in Japan to risk fanning the flames with public action. Some of Sony’s counterparts have also been reluctant to speak up because Sony itself has kept its public self-defense to a minimum.
Representatives for Walt Disney, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures either declined to comment or did not respond to queries.
Privately, some Sony executives have expressed bewilderment and resentment at the public silence of the company’s peers. One of the studio’s executives used the following analogy: Imagine a cul-de-sac where, when one house erupts in flames, the neighbours never come outside to help.